Lighting up the Darkness – The Week that Was

The Week that Was
I’ve read endless reports on the WMOF and the Papal Visit – but none which mirrored my own experience of the events. So I wonder, did anybody experience the week as I did?
I am, what my husband calls a Revolting Catholic. I know there are many of us – of greater and lesser degrees. Some years ago, I walked away from Catholicism feeling utterly frustrated that the voice for reform in the church just wasn’t being heard. It wasn’t being heard by the Institutional Church and it wasn’t being heard by others like me who had already given up on it.

But I couldn’t stay away. Some deep need within me drew me back. I don’t anymore feel Catholicism is “The one, true church” – I completely accept that there are other paths that are equally true. So, I was open to looking at other denominations / faiths/ codes of belief within which I could find a Spiritual Home. But I didn’t feel the need to find a new path. Catholicism was in my DNA. Belief in a loving Creator and the desire for regular nourishment in the Eucharist seems to be in my bloodstream, even when my brain disputes it. I have a need to be part of a community which shares the common vision of sharing God’s love through mutual help and support and outreach to others.

After much soul-searching, I decided I could return to my heart’s desire, but only if I also committed to doing whatever was in my power to assist with the struggle to make Catholicism a genuinely open, inclusive church where ALL inequalities and injustices based on sex and sexual orientation were eradicated, and ALL were welcome at the table of the Lord, regardless of their status in life. Most importantly, I wanted to work towards having a church where truth and accountability were more important than protection of the institution.

I’m under no illusion that MY voice carries any weight at all – but I work on the principle that it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness. So, I boycotted the WMOF (not that anybody would have noticed!) I boycotted it because it showed itself to be NON-inclusive towards We Are Church and the LGBTI community. Not only were We Are Church denied a stand in the RDS, they weren’t even afforded the courtesy of a reply to their application. Promotional literature which originally had included a picture of a same-sex family was reprinted with the picture removed. Inclusive?

I’m quite involved in my parish. I play keyboard for one of the Sunday Eucharists and I participate to the best of my ability in the development of the parish. I want people to find a warm welcome in our parish church, so I was more than happy to welcome visitors from abroad who came over for the WMOF (my boycott was of the event itself – not the people who attended). I made it my business to welcome, and include in the singing, a group of thirty Taiwanese people who came to Monday morning Mass with us.

I attended the daily Mass any day I was free to do so, and, with a heart and a half, accompanied the congregation in the singing. I also did some work to progress the formation of our next Parish Pastoral Team. All the while, I felt a total disconnect from the WMOF – it didn’t have any importance for me. In fact, it stuck me that, if the time, resources and energy that was evidently being put into running that event, had been put into tackling the REAL issues in our church, we could actually begin to get places. I thought it was like Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

Saturday morning saw me on Ha’penny Bridge, with We Are Church and Dublin Pride, bearing witness to those real issues. The atmosphere there was actually what I can only describe as truly Christian – good-humoured, smiling folk, helping each other to cover the bridge with blue ribbons in solidarity with the victims of clerical abuse, purple umbrellas to highlight the inequality of women in the Institution, and Rainbow umbrellas as a pointer towards the disgraceful treatment of LGBTI people. There was no anger or aggression – just people making a point. I felt at home with them.

On Sunday morning, I was back at my keyboard in church – when I wasn’t on my feet exhorting the congregation to sing! I was able to use the occasion to appeal for food for the Soup Kitchen, Hope in the Darkness, which gives food to the homeless outside the GPO every Sunday night (and Wednesday and Thursday nights). Because so many other soup kitchens were unable to operate in the city centre as an unforeseen consequence of the Papal visit, Hope in the Darkness knew they’d be inundated with hungry people needing a meal. As I knew would be the case, a good number of people took up the task of preparing sandwiches, pizzas etc. and delivered them to my house in the course of the day.

At lunchtime, instead of heading for the Phoenix Park, I headed into town for the Stand4Truth event. I must confess that I initially felt a bit uneasy there at first – I overheard a number of savagely anti-Catholic comments being made as the crowd was gathering.

While there was some feeling of anger and disgust, I felt that deep hurt and betrayal lay beneath the anger. The first singer was Liam O Maonlai and the first song was a Lament. I felt he was sending a wail of deep pain to the very Heavens for us.
We Irish may feel we are now sophisticated Europeans (and we are), but I think that deep in our souls the pain of centuries of oppression is still there. And now our pain has been inflicted by the very source that comforted our forebears through their agonies. Is it any wonder so many of us can’t move beyond that sense of betrayal?
I wanted to get up on the stage and scream out “Yes! You are right to howl to the Heavens about the betrayal the Catholic Institution! But that’s NOT Catholicism! There’s nourishment and support and care to be found within the church. There are MANY of us who feel exactly the way you do about it, but we stay because we want it to change – we want it to be something that enriches and deepens life and the only way we can do it is to keep chipping away from the inside.”
I didn’t stay till the end, as I knew people would be dropping over to the house with food for the GPO.

And that was a wonderful end to the Week that Was. Neighbours, people I see at Mass every Sunday, called to the house with bags of food. We got in to the GPO about 8.30pm, much to the relief of the volunteers serving the food. Their supplies had already run out – there were many more people than usual in the queue, and our contribution kept them going so that almost all there got fed. Those who were there in the queue were generally good-humoured and upbeat, despite being thrown out of their usual routine because of the week that it was.

I expect that the mood in the Phoenix Park on Sunday was also good-humoured and upbeat and I’ve no doubt that it was a wonderful experience for the people who attended. I loved seeing Pope Francis relating to the crowd. He’s obviously a man who’s much more comfortable being REAL than attending to protocol! I hope he felt the trip to Ireland served a purpose. I hope he’s gone back with a determination to make progress in addressing the real issues in our church. He keeps asking us to pray for him. I do. And I also pray for us. We need and deserve an Institutional church which reflects real Christianity – that church which rallied around the homeless who gathered at the GPO on Sunday night.

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  1. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    Sadly, on Ryan Tubridy Radio this morning (August 29) a woman told of a teenage girl who went to Knock with her mother, put it on line, and was subjected to vile attack and accused of being a supporter of paedophiles.

    A letter in the Irish Times today tells of a few priests visiting from France going into a pub on O’Connell Street in Dublin following the Phoenix Park Mass, and three women “approached them rudely and told them they were not welcome to go in.”

  2. Lee Cahill says:

    Jo, I would like your superb contribution to be reflected on….over a substantial period of time. I am finding a fatigue in reading presentations which are responded to with haste… and con the article written. An aspect of this “fatigue” is the whirlwind/tsunami of articles being submitted and responded to “for and against”.
    Jo, your contibution is so Gospel-rich. So much so that it is danger of being demolished (not “air-brushed” away) by a magnum of debate.
    The Gospel compassion, love, inclusiveness and tolerance, which thread your sharing, deserves a significant time of reflection AND ABSORPTION. Such as will have us say, later, “were not our hearts burning….as we read/reflected on it”
    Your email deserves to be an Emmaus experience for us privileged to read it.

  3. Kay O'Brien says:

    Thank you, Jo. I love your self description: a Revolting Catholic. As an American, struggling with the recent developments, I’ve been looking for something to give me hope. Your message does just that. As the recent Sunday scripture asks, to whom shall we go?

  4. Soline Humbert says:

    Thank you very much Jo for your gracious and generous sharing of your personal experience.I have read your testimony a few times,and pondered it,and I concur wholeheartedly with Lee’s sentiments @3.

  5. Mary Vallely says:

    I have just read Jo’s account and like Lee and Soline found it truly inspiring. This is Church in action and with Jo’s permission I have posted it on the ACI FB page for others to see and to be encouraged by what we can do while waiting on the great revolution – if it ever comes- that of turning the RCC round again to what it was in the beginning. A sharing, caring community of people, women and men all equal in the Nazarene’s eyes, seeking to show by their love and commitment to the poor and marginalised what it means to be a Christian.

  6. Joe O'Leary says:

    Here is the right blend of humanity, honesty, open to modern experience, on the one hand, and old Catholic instincts on the other; it gives a beautiful portrait of Ireland on one weekend and a hope that we can have such a culture all the year round.

  7. Jo O'Sullivan says:

    I’m deeply grateful to those of you who actually commented on what I’d written. Isn’t it ironic (that would make a good song title!) that the first responses to my writing about how frustrated I felt about not being heard in the church, didn’t refer to what I had written at all? It’s just as well I’m used to not being heard by this stage.

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